From a love poem by Montale
I learned about a bug—cochineal—
A parasite that eats the red
Fruit of prickly pear
And then becomes the color carmine.
In another book I found
Rose madder: softer
Red, fugitive, from a root
Remnants of which were found in King Tut’s tomb.
The teacher who translated Montale also
Loved Indian speeches and Greek plays,
Antonioni’s films. He liked us—I won’t
Say love, his mixture of respect
And interest. Bildung is
Reading with feeling, culture,
And history. Education is love
For something beyond the self,
Nietzsche said. My love
For color is so intense
I dream of shoes to complement
A dress. Eggplant edged with
Daffodil or pale blue
Striped with hickory. And I recall
My teacher’s voice: a cello well
Played with a horsehair bow.
Twenty-five, sipping tea in his living
Room and introduced to—what?
I had no garden then. But studied:
Pallet from straw, palate
For the roof of the mouth.
I know the difference between
These words—and so? Someday
I’ll forget the color Vermeer used
For Mary’s blouse or why it matters.
My teacher died at the age I am now
Thirty years ago. I wish I could tell him
I’ve eaten prickly pear and seen
Cochineal. And that he made
Me feel a pull like gravity
But from the sky.